You Won't Work Like a Donkey...

by Penelope Alegria

Writing Workshop

Workshop Title: Warning

Step 1

Ask your students, “What is something that your parents/guardians have always warned you about? Something that they learned through experience that they don’t want you to go through, either?”

Step 2

Read “You Won’t Work Like a Donkey: Portrait of my Mother’s Worry” by Penelope Alegria. Then discuss the warning she’s giving her daughter and how she goes about delivering that warning.

Step 3

Give your students some time to think about the warnings they’ve been given, either from their parents/guardians or from somebody else of importance to them. Then try to develop a list of ways those people went about telling them to be careful.

Step 4

Have your students write a poem like “You Won’t Work Like a Donkey: Portrait of my Mother’s Worry” in which they recount a warning they were given, a poem that illustrates the speaker’s concern toward them. Make sure they are writing from the perspective of the concerned party, whether that be a parent, guardian, or somebody else of importance.

Step 5

When the students are done, have them share their responses with one another.

The full presentation may be found HERE.

Analytical Lesson

Area of Focus: Tone

Step 1

If your students are not familiar with the concept of “tone,” go through the introductory lesson with them.

Step 2

Share the title of the poem with them. Then have them try and determine what the title implies about the content of the poem, what they think the poem will entail.

Step 3

Read the poem with them. Then briefly discuss the poem with them, touching upon the different warnings the mother offers her daughter and the tone(s) she carries throughout the piece.

Step 4

Ask your students how they know that the mother feels that way since she never explicitly states her feelings. Then show them the following video to introduce them to the concept of subtext.

Step 5

Have your students open the following document and go over the introduction and directions with them. In this assignment, the students will have to go through the poem, determine the subtext of the mother’s dialogue, and discuss the tone conveyed in each of the examples provided.

Step 6

When the students are done, have them share their responses aloud. If time permits, share the exemplar essay provided.

Lesson Details

Lesson Info


  • Tone


  • Appreciation
  • Children / Youth
  • Class
  • Community / Culture
  • Creativity / Imagination / Writing
  • Death / Grief
  • Economy
  • Environment / Environmental Justice
  • Family
  • Food / Hunger
  • Health / Health Care / Illness
  • History
  • Immigration
  • International
  • Labor / Work
  • Love
  • Parenting
  • Violence

Literary Tags

  • Diction
  • Figurative Language
  • Imagery
  • Selection of Detail
  • Tone